One by one, snow-white star butterfly larvae wriggled out of the soil. Although they differed slightly in shape, they were all mostly of the same lengths.
Gongjia Yue behaved like a starving beast who smelled blood, excitement shining in his eyes. He could not wait to catch all these worms and drained their blood out. He seemed to see a path of riches and glory ahead of him already.
The chance of restoring his former glory was here!
He unsheathed his sword and rushed straight at the nearest worm.
Mu Yao snapped back to his senses and waved for his subordinates to catch the worms. Their entire journey had been all for these white worms!
When their sharp blades cut the worm, it lacked the sharp sound of broken skin while they felt as if they had just attempted to cut a tree trunk. The blade could not cut through, merely leaving a shallow scratch on the surface. Even Mu Yao could not chop the worm in half as he imagined.
His sword had just slashed a giant eagle’s toe off, yet now it was struggling to cut a worm.
However, although it was not split in half, its skin was broken.
White liquid flowed from its wound and unto the ground, seeping into the soil. When Mu Yao was about to slash again at its wound, the agile worm tumbled aside to dodge the blade.
White traces remained on the ground from its blood but they quickly seeped into the soil. Mu Yao then noticed the worm that rolled away was no longer bleeding, and its wound was literally healing before his eyes!
Its healing abilities were astonishing!
Tough skin, alarming healing abilities and agile movements. Although these star butterfly larvae did not have large fangs or sharp horns, they were still difficult targets.
Someone near Mu Yao noticed the same thing. He was about to tell Muyao when a flash of white passed in front of him as quickly as lightning!
The star butterfly larva he hurt had its head stuck to the ground, while two-thirds of its body became a fat white whip. A ‘whoosh’ sounded whenever it flicked around aggressively, knocking people off their feet.
These people did not expect such a harmless worm to attack so suddenly so none of them were prepared when the worm slammed heavily into their abdomens.
The larva anchored itself into the ground with three pairs of front feet, bending at a ridiculous angle to hit its targets.
This person was thrown least thirty metres away, sliding across the ground when he landed before stopping. Without the trees and grass on the ground, he would have slid further.
The person curled up into a ball, coughing up blood and groaning painfully. He could not get up.
Mu Yao dodged the ‘white whip’ that flicked at him. Although these white worms were difficult, they would surely die if he could cut them a few more times.
Gongjia Yue squatted and touched the white traces left behind by the liquid that flowed from its wounds. He pinched the soil between his fingers and a thought popped in his head: ‘this can’t be used!’
He suddenly yelled, “Not blood!”
“What do you mean?” asked Mu Yao.
“It’s not the larva’s blood we need for forging!” said Gongjia Yue.
Mu Yao was even more confused. Not blood? Didn’t you say you need its blood? Are you serious? You’d better talk to your ancestors about it!
“Not the blood, but definitely something related to the star butterfly larvae!” Gongjia Yue paused. “Use a net! We’ll talk after we catch them!”
They should catch the worms first, then carefully study the worms to check what this liquid was.
Mu Yao calmed down a little. As long as they needed the worms. He would leave everything else to the Gongjia people.
The net Gongjia Yue mentioned was not one made of vines or straw rope used by tribesmen. He had personally made this net before the journey.
Every strand that made up the net was a type of treated metal- malleable yet durable. These lines were only the tenth of a little finger’s width and lighter than regular metals! Even the Mu and Yi families were impressed.
The Gongjia people, especially ones called ‘Masters’, all owned many treasures unknown to the public. He only took out this precious work of his to capture the larvae. He had invented this net and to this day, no one else could figure out how to make the same kind. Gongjia Yue once planned to show this net off at the next Gongjia meeting to win the Beast Blacksmith award!
Unfortunately, the political situation in King City changed before the meeting. The Gongjia family since split into several cliques and he was squeezed out.
Hearing his instruction, his slave opened a large wooden box he was carrying, taking out several objects wrapped in animal hide. He unwrapped them to reveal shiny silver nets.
Mu Yao wasted no time in distributing the nets.
These nets were custom-made and differed from regular fishnets. These were specially made for worms, hence doing away with unnecessary parts to save space and make it lighter.
The unfurled net trapped the front of the worm, then tightened so the worm’s head and a protruding segment would be trapped inside the net. One strand of wire was connected to the mouth and held by the person who cast the net. This wire controlled the tightness of the net’s mouth.
The worm with a trapped head did not stop charging ahead. After several tumbles, it continued crawling towards the mountain wall.
One person was not enough to hold the worm back so six or seven, sometimes more people pulled the same net. Sometimes, they saved effort by tying the net to a tree or rock.
“Quick quick quick! There are more! Catch as many as you can!” yelled Gongjia Yue frantically. He realised that the wriggling worms were not even interested in fighting them, instead all crawling quickly towards the mountain wall. There were many worms already inching quickly up the wall.
Although Gongjia Yue was not familiar with insects, such a large-scale behaviour surely was not coincidental!
They had suffered so much to get here, they cannot afford to be stopped by any external factors!
Seven larvae had already been captured. A portion of the people went to look for vines so that they could switch out the metal nets with vines after the larvae exhausted themselves, then use the nets again to catch more worms.
A portion of the people functioned to distract the worms so that the rest could catch them with their nets quickly. If the worms decided to stand up and sweep their tails again, these people might just die.
Looks like there were too few people for the job. Gongjia Yue turned to see Yi Qi and Yi Cong who stayed far away from everyone along with four or five slaves staying with them. Gongjia Yue initially wanted them to send a few slaves to help but both did not look interested in the worms at all. They merely stared at their trays with knitted brows, ignoring the battle. Seeing this, Gongjia Yue swallowed his words once again. Whatever, they’re hopeless.
Were they not previously impatient to get their hands on better weapons? Why do they look so distracted now?
“We’ve got too few people!
Since they were not sure if they would find their targets, they did not bring too many people to avoid attracting attention. He thought they would just catch one or two but Gongjia Yue was filled with regret now. If he knew there were so many worms, he would have brought an army!
Although there were many worms, they were all scattered and contributed to the inefficiency in capture.
“Quick! Quick! Quick!”
Almost all the worms were on the mountain wall already. At this rate, Gongjia Yue could not wait any longer, sheathing his sword to crawl up the steep rock wall.
Mu Yao and the rest did the same. They planned to make the worms fall off, while people at the bottom waited with their nets to catch the worms.
However, they soon realised that even scaling the wall was difficult. This wall was harder and colder than usual. The higher they climbed, the more difficult it was. It was as if a force was attempting to push any living thing off the mountain.
Yet these worms did not seem to feel the oppression. They inched up the walls in a “Ω” [greek letter ohm] shape, then a “----” straight line, then “Ω” [greek letter ohm] again. There were three sets of feet on their chest, abdomen and tail, each foot had a hook to help these seemingly clumsy worms stick securely on the wall.
They were doing much better than Mu Yao and the rest.
That won’t do!
The worms were crawling faster than them. If this continued, they would be left behind.
Gongjia Yue noticed this problem too. He looked at the mountain wall and his eyes focused on one spot.
“That fat one!”
Mu Yao looked over to see a white worm. Although it was as long as the rest, this worm was particularly thick. Others might have rounded segments, this worm might as well have balls of flesh. It was both fat and slow, wouldn’t that make it the perfect target? We could probably flick it with a sword and it would tumble down the wall!
That’s the one!
“Catch that fat one!”
With limited people, they could only focus on one and a time.
Perhaps sensing their ill intentions, the fat worm sped up, shocking Mu Yao who struggled to catch up.
In the end, they gave up on the fat worm and found a resting spot instead. They ate and drank to replenish their strength before scaling the mountain. They often met solid cliffs so anything that could be scaled was scaled, anything too difficult was avoided in favour of flatter routes.
Mu Yao looked up. They had already climbed a distance up and the walls were starting to be covered in snow. There was no green here but the peak still could not be seen, merely wisps of mist and clouds above.
He almost choked when he took in a deep breath of freezing air. The breeze was too strong here, and colder. But this was barely halfway up the mountain, it would be colder further up.
Mu Yao looked at Gongjia Yue, knowing he would not give up because of this. Mu Yao did not want to either. They had come so far for this. Even if they could not catch more worms, they might be able to find out why the worms were crawling up. Perhaps they would discover some secret and find some treasure, then all would be worth it! Don’t they always say how dangerous mountains contain treasures!
His blood coursed as he thought about potential treasures. Mu Yao and the rest who followed surely thought of this too. No one complained. Although they were cold, they all looked up with passionate gazes.
What kind of treasure?
They had hunted many fearsome beasts along the way so they currently covered themselves in animal hides. However, even these thick hides were slowly covered in snow. The higher they went, the more ice and snow they encountered. Their hair and beards were not spared.
“How far away is the peak?”
Mu Yao was impressed.
As he thought about it, he felt a sharp gaze so he turned to see an eagle resting about a hundred metres away. It was the same eagle he met previously.
However, his current target was the worms so he showed no interest. He glared at the eagle, then continued climbing but the eagle continued staring intently, which made his temper flare.
“What are you looking at? I’ll chop your head off if you look at me again!” roared Mu Yao.
When he finished, the eagle glared at him even more intensely.
All the suppressed anger he felt exploded within. They were all hungry anyway, might as well kill this eagle for food first before moving along.
He was about to instruct his subordinates when he heard an eagle’s cry from above.
A strong gust of wind blew past, causing some smaller stone chips to fall off the edge.
Mu Yao and the rest squinted and looked up only to see an eagle land on a wall nearby, its talons clinging on securely. While it was much smaller than this old eagle, it was still gigantic to humans. It looked young, its beak not as curved as the older eagle, its talons sharp and powerful.
However, Mu Yao’s attention was not on the eagle. He saw a person standing on a rock protruding from the wall.
“A tribesman?!” asked Mu Yao.
“Flaming Horn?!” Gongjia Yue thought this person was familiar.
Recalling what the Yi people said, Mu Yao glared. “YOU’RE Shao Xuan from the Flaming Horn tribe?!”
Years ago when they were tracking the Flaming Horn Tribe down, Mu Yao was not in the front lines and so did not see Shao Xuan. He was only guessing based on what the Yi people said. Yi Qi and Yi Cong said someone was following them and Yi Cong seemed sure that this person was Flaming Horn’s Shao Xuan.
Shao Xuan did not answer their question. “How brave of you to use your swords here.”
Mu Yao, cautious of Shao Xuan, raised his eyebrow. “Is that not allowed?”
Shao Xuan’s eyes scanned across the group. “This is a ‘sacred’ place belonging to the giant eagles.”
Everyone looked puzzled. But Shao Xuan did not seem to be joking either.
What does a ‘sacred place’ mean anyway?
Doesn’t this place belong to the star butterfly larvae? How big is a giant eagle? Was the previous eagle a giant eagle?
Recalling the old eagle, Mu Yao realised that the resting eagle had started to flap its wings, deliberately looking at Mu Yao and wriggling its broken toes. Then, it looked up and never turned around again.
Mu Yao felt like he was the only one who understood the message behind the look: You’d better watch out!